Reporting from the intersection of energy and climate
Whether it's the budgetary challenges facing Rocky Mountain National Park, the challenges Colorado's water supplies are facing amid the state's devastating drought or answering questions about how much water it takes to hydraulically fracture an oil and gas well, I've investigated it, tweeted it, Facebooked it and posted it freelancing for national magazines and working for the Fort Collins Coloradoan and the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel over the last seven years. My work is accurate, varied and deep, reported with digital, print and social media audiences in mind. In August 2013, I moved to New York, where I am a senior science writer for Climate Central in New York City and Princeton, NJ.
One-page résumé: (PDF)
References available upon request.
On June 12, 2013, the Columbia Journalism Review highlighted my data-driven energy reporting at the Fort Collins Coloradoan as a model for how journalists should report on oil and gas. Read it the CJR story here.
Climate Central Work
Find my latest Climate Central work here.
Best Coloradoan Work of 2013
Colorado's state climatologist says High Park Fire gave him permission to talk about climate change — Nolan Doesken used to have a hard time talking about climate change. The topic has become so politically combustible that some scientists and researchers find it difficult to speak of or write about. But, after the High Park Fire swept the foothills in 2012, Doesken decided to talk more openly about the reasons behind Colorado’s changing weather when talking to the agriculture community. — May 23, 2013
Big fines rare for oil and gas rule breakers — This is my analysis of all the fines state oil regulators have levied against energy companies since Jan. 1, 1996. Fines to major and minor oil companies alike are often extremely small, and only occasionally have they exceeded $100,000 for major environmental problems. — April 7, 2013 (Click here for PDF)
Businesses surprised to see their names on fracking petition This story led to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association's retraction of a petition it filed with the city of Fort Collins after more than 22 businesses claimed COGA misrepresented their interests. COGA was unable to verify the authenticity of some of the signatures they submitted to the City Council. — Feb. 21, 2013
Blacklisted: Oilmen create 'willful pattern of violation' The second installment in the Johnston Landfill investigation shows that executives working for the company that drilled the landfill have left a trail of environmental troubles behind them. — Feb. 9, 2013
Oil and Waste Collide at Northern Colorado Landfill Failures at nearly every level of government allowed a closed landfill to sit unmonitored for 30 years before being drilled for oil, exposing hazardous waste and an environmental headache unprecedented in Colorado. First of two parts. — Feb. 8, 2013
Seismic Setbacks State launches public health investigation into Weld County oil and gas wells that have been causing neighbor's walls to shake and heads to ache. — Jan. 13, 2013
Best Coloradoan Work of 2012
Fracking Away Our Aquifers? Documents the EPA provided the Coloradoan under the Freedom of Information Act show the agency is allowing energy companies to inject oil and gas drilling and fracking wastewater into unused drinking water aquifers. — Dec. 29, 2012
Who Buys Products Made from Northern Colorado Fracking? You do. As cities up and down the Front Range consider restrictions on oil and gas drilling and fracking, the gasoline made from the oil produced here is consumed here. — Dec. 19, 2012
Food Deserts Exist in Supermarket-Resplendent Fort Collins — April 15, 2012
Zombie Neighborhoods: Derelict for years, vacant subdivisions’ future still hazy. — March 25, 2012
COLORADO PRESS ASSOCIATION AWARD WINNERS:
A Systemic Suicide: Mental Illness' Stigma Major Roadblock to Getting Help For Susan Barnes, watching her son slip away over eight years was like watching a slow death. -- April 1, 2012
For Sale: Excess Municipal Water: Water questions linger as cities reap benefits from selling water for fracking. — March 11, 2012
Find my latest Fort Collins Coloradoan work within the last month here.
• The Environmental Dangers of NOT Building the Keystone XL Pipeline Popular Mechanics.com, Feb. 19, 2013 — There are two big environmental arguments against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, the controversial infrastructure project that would carry Canadian crude from Alberta's oil sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. This is the project that currently is causing headaches for the Obama Administration, which has promised both to promote fossil fuel production and to curb greenhouse gas emissions. One environmental concern is that the pipeline would speed climate change, because extracting and processing the oil is particularly carbon-intensive. The second is that a pipeline spill could harm sensitive lands and waters in the American Midwest.
• As Shortage Worsens, We Visit the Helium Reserve Popular Mechanics.com, November 12, 2012— To drive west through Amarillo, Texas, is to be confronted by a litany of billboards luring passersby off the freeway to sample the town’s famous 72-ounce steaks and a bit of the cowboy culture that put the Texas Panhandle, flat as a rodeo arena, on the map. But Amarillo, a far-flung dusty urban island between Albuquerque, N.M., and Oklahoma City, is also helium country—for now.
Amarillo has been called the helium capital of the world because the area is home to the Federal Helium Reserve, a vast underground storehouse operated by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The government created the Federal Helium Program in 1917 to provide helium for blimps during World War I; the reservoir is in Amarillo because the natural gas fields between there and southern Kansas have a high helium concentration—up to 1.9 percent—making them more helium-rich than most other natural gas fields around the globe.
• Why is There a Helium Shortage? Popular Mechanics.com, June 25, 2012 — One of the most abundant elements in the universe is getting harder to come by. Helium goes into a lot more than balloons. Because the gas is inert and has extreme melting and boiling points—both near absolute zero—scientists use it in cryogenics, high-energy accelerators, arc welding, and silicon wafer manufacturing. A severe reduction in the availability of helium could force hospitals to replace costly MRI magnets or restrict patient access to them.
The federal government, which sets helium prices, announced in April that helium prices would spike from $75.75 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf) in FY 2012 to $84 per Mcf in FY 2013. (Last year, prices rose only 75 cents.) This price spike, along with uncertain federal policy (and a peculiar industry setup to begin with), is threatening to create a shortage. Here’s what’s going on.
• How Much Life is Left in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline? PopularMechanics.com, Feb. 3, 2012 —In an election year when access to domestic oil supplies will figure prominently in the presidential campaign, uncertainty is growing over how much life the critical Trans-Alaska Pipeline has left in it. The pipeline transports roughly 14 percent of U.S. crude oil supplies, yet energy companies are starting to suggest that the lifeline to some of the richest oil fields in the country may not be worth the expense of upkeep. Oil production in Alaska’s North Slope oil fields has declined every year since production peaked in 1988, and the consortium of energy companies that own the line say they are worried: If production slows down too much, the pipeline can become unsafe—or at least uneconomical—to run. But some watchdogs say the industry may be fudging its numbers as part of a ploy to get access to new, potentially rich oil fields.
• U.S. Tar Sands? Canadian Company Seeks to Drill in Utah, Popular Mechanics, Dec. 9, 2011 — The United States’ largest source of oil imports is not the Middle East, but rather Canada: The Athabasca oil sands underlying a huge swath of northern Alberta, containing perhaps 175 billion barrels of oil, have been a steady—and controversial—source of liquid fuel. Extracting it is a dirty business, and a recent plan to escalate development by building a pipeline through the Midwest inspired thousands of people to throng the White House. But while Canada is home to most of the world’s oil sands, the United States can claim an area rich in oil sands, too. A small Calgary-based company, U.S. Oil Sands, wants to extract the oil from sands found in Eastern Utah.
• Change Shadows Rocky Mountain National Park, USA Today, Nov. 30, 2009 — Devastated by the mountain pine beetle, Rocky Mountain National Park is in a state of flux: The beetle, an uncertain budget and climate change could forever alter the face of Colorado’s centerpiece national park.
• Chaco Canyon: Pave the Road or Stick with Gravel?, NewWest.net, June 7, 2011 — A fight over the future of one of New Mexico’s greatest historic treasures could soon find a resolution when local county officials and the federal government finally answer a nearly seven year-old question: Should the road to Chaco Canyon be paved?
• Colorado Shuffles Parks, Wildlife Departments, NewWest.net, May 30, 2011— After 40 years of divorce, the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Colorado State Parks are set to become a single agency again, joined at the hip as a way to save money and create efficiencies in state government.
• Colorado’s Roadless Rule Debate: How Did We Get Here?, NewWest.net, May 5, 2011 — Roadless areas are not quite wilderness, but they’re not quite freely open to development either. They’re somewhere in between, particularly in Colorado, where the fate of roadway-free, undeveloped national forest land has been rancorously contested for a decade and could soon end up with a management scheme entirely unique to the state.
• New Mexico’s Rail Runner Express: Groundbreaking or Boondoggle? NewWest.net, April 26, 2011 — Riding the Rail Runner Express commuter train between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is a distinctly New Mexican experience. As soon as the train doors close with a “Looney Toons”-style Road Runner “meep meep” chime, the crew warns passengers not to snap photos out of the windows because the train will soon cross the Tewa Pueblo and other sacred Native American lands in the Rio Grande Valley. With a wave of GOP hostility toward commuter rail projects across the country, that experience is uncertain following the election last fall of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who has long questioned the need and cost of the Rail Runner Express, the first inter-city commuter rail project in the Rocky Mountain region.
• In New Mexico, Fixing the Devil’s Highway, NewWest.net, April 12, 2011 — It used to be the “Devil’s Highway,” but now U.S. Highway 491 is just a deathtrap. Beginning in May, a $31 million federal stimulus grant will help New Mexico highway officials transform U.S. 491 on the Navajo Reservation from one of the most deadly highways in the state to a major four-lane expressway seemingly passing through the middle of nowhere.
• Is Utah’s Energy Office Designed to Oppose Federal Drilling Rules? NewWest.net, March 29, 2011 — After Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management chief Bob Abbey announced in December that much untrammeled public land across the West may soon receive the new “Wild Lands”designation, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert warnedCongress in March that the designation will cost Utah billions, while others in the GOP called the move a “land grab” that sent “shockwaves” across the West.
• Small-time Prospectors See Big Future in New Mexico Uranium, New West.net, March 17, 2011 (PDF) — A former geologist for the Bureau of Land Management in Moab, Utah, Frank Bain says he’s betting his future on a small uranium claim in rural Catron County, New Mexico. Staked when Bain worked for Vane Minerals in 2009, the Deer Claim, about 15 miles north of Datil, New Mexico, ended up in Bain’s hands after a disagreement with his former employer. Now he’s part of a wave of small-time uranium prospectors taking a second look at a remote part of New Mexico long left in the dust by uranium companies looking for ore in the 1960s and 1970s. “There’s actually a proven resource of three to four million pounds of uranium,” Bain said, referring to the Deer Claim. New Mexico is seeing renewed interest in both conventional and in situ uranium mining and exploration.
• Future of Southwest’s Mexican Gray Wolf Uncertain, NewWest.net, March 2, 2011 (PDF) — Like many outfitters and ranchers in Catron County, New Mexico —one of the counties of the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 70s and 80s — Tom Klumker wants Mexican gray wolves out of the Gila National Forest, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been releasing the endangered wolves into the wild since 1998. “They’ve been successful at wiping out a bunch of livestock and hurting a bunch of ranchers,” Klumker said. “As a result, they’ve made a big difference on the livestock industry in Catron County. I don’t think we need them. The early settlers worked very hard to get rid of both the wolf and the grizzly for a very good reason.” Klumker, based in Glenwood, N.M., is a board member of the vehemently anti-wolf Americans for the Preservation of Western Environment, or APWE, and the Southwest Director of the New Mexico Council of Outfitters and Guides, a group now part of a new Fish and Wildlife Service Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Planning Team. The team will create a new recovery plan that may eventually lead the way to a healthy and sustainable population of Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.
• New Mexico Governor Takes New Approach to Environment, Energy Industry, NewWest.net, February 17, 2011 (PDF) — When Republican Susana Martinez was elected to succeed two-term Democrat Bill Richardson as governor of New Mexico, voters knew they were getting a conservative budget-slasher who declared the Land of Enchantment is “open for business.” But the Susana Martinez administration New Mexicans ended up with was a little cozier with the oil and gas industry and more skeptical of climate change and renewable energy programs than many expected.
• The New Future for Valles Caldera Depends on Action from a New Congress, NewWest.net, January 26, 2011 (PDF)— “It’s Your Experiment” is the official slogan of northern New Mexico’s Valles Caldera National Preserve, a broad volcanic valley in the heart of the Jemez Mountains near Los Alamos. The slogan doesn’t refer to a science experiment, but to the preserve itself and its unorthodox management scheme. Congress created the preserve in 2000 to be managed by the Valles Caldera Trust, a wholly-owned government corporation with the mandate to make the national preserve financially self-sustaining by 2015.
• NewWest.net, November 25, 2010: Could a name change put a Colorado landmark on the national radar? — (PDF) Some in western Colorado want Colorado National Monument to become a national park. The name, they say, doesn’t quite capture the spectacular scenery found there.
• NewWest.net, October 27, 2010: The future of uranium mining in Colorado — (PDF) Facing a new restrictive regulatory environment in Colorado and massive environmental challenges, the state’s uranium industry faces an uncertain future.
• NewWest.net, October 12, 2010: National Park Service Struggles to Re-work Free Speech Rules — (PDF) After deciding not to appeal a ruling labeling as unconstitutional the practice of requiring people to apply for permits and to protest only in designated free-speech areas, NPS has made few changes.
High Country News
• High Country News, December 15, 2010: No Place for Hate — Half of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s anti-gay hate groups operate in the West, but recent advances for gay rights in the region show the West may be no place for hate.
• High Country News, December 2, 2010: Drill the Parks — My first contribution to HCN’s Just West blog. Colorado and Arizona state parks are facing serious budget cuts, forcing them to go to great lengths to find new ways to raise money. In Colorado, one answer may be to drill some state parks for oil.
• “Oil and Gas Drilling Could Oust Elk – And Boy Scouts,” High Country News, March 1, 2004 — Energy development once threatened the Valle Vidal, a 100,000 acre tract of rolling backcountry in New Mexico’s Carson National Forest. Residents successfully pushed Congress to keep the Valle Vidal off-limits.
• “New Mexicans Take a Stand Against Oil and Gas,” High Country News, March 29, 2004 — It was thought that ranchers, farmers and other people who were fed up with the Bush administration’s natural resource extraction initiatives on public lands throughout the West would tip the balance toward the Democrats in the 2004 election. They didn’t.
Older Fort Collins Coloradoan Work
Find my latest Fort Collins Coloradoan work within the last month here.
• Water Supplies Uncertain for Niobrara Drilling — Fort Collins Coloradoan, October 7, 2011
• North Park Targeted for Drilling — Fort Collins Coloradoan, September 26, 2011
• Fracking Fears Heat Up in Northern Colorado — Fort Collins Coloradoan, August 14, 2011
• Niobrara Part 1: New West Landowners Lasso Energy Promise — Fort Collins Coloradoan, Dec. 30, 2010
• Niobrara Part 2: Environmentalists, New Energy Seek Common Ground at Pawnee Buttes — Fort Collins Coloradoan, Dec. 31, 2010
• Skepticism: Scientists dismiss climate science as “Bunk” — Fort Collins Coloradoan, July 19, 2011
• Patriot Diamonds to add spark to Larimer County mining — Fort Collins Coloradoan, July 30, 2011
• Take it slow or get ‘er done — Fort Collins Coloradoan, March 27, 2011
• Powertech may mothball Centennial — Fort Collins Coloradoan, April 27, 2011
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Work
Parks in Peril — A six-part series telling the stories of six budget-starved national parks in Colorado and Utah. Published Dec. 24-30, 2006 in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. These are the best four installments:
• Parks in Peril, Part 1: National Parks a Picture of Woe and Grandeur, the first in my six-part series on the state of our national parks in Colorado and Utah published in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Dec. 24-30, 2006.
• Parks in Peril, Part 2: Clash of Conservation, Consumption: Signs of Search for Energy Nudge Into Grand Vistas of Eastern Utah Parks — Arches and Canyonlands national parks, where oil and natural gas development could one day encroach right up to the parks’ boundaries, are two of the most spectacular national parks in the contiguous U.S. and face serious challenges.
• Parks in Peril, Part 3: Collapsing Main Attraction Frames Dinosaur National Monument’s Problems — Dinosaur National Monument, where its famous Dinosaur Quarry was closed in 2006 because the building around it was about to collapse.
• Parks in Peril, Part 4: Park Service Lobbies Hard for Wilderness Designation — Colorado National Monument, one of Colorado’s most scenic national parks, is being surrounded by housing development in the booming Grand Valley. It’s not the wilderness it used to be.
• “Been Down That Road Before,” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, March 18, 2007 — The dusty town of Green River, Utah, was grappling with the implications of a proposed oil refinery.
• “CSI: National Monument,” Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, August 12, 2007 — Wild and beautiful Colorado National Monument, right on the edge of Grand Junction, is considered an “urban” national park, because the rush-hour traffic, the teen parties in culverts beneath the monument’s 23-mile scenic highway, numerous suicides, drug use and traffic-cyclist conflicts have turned this National Park Service backwater into a park more affected by its surrounding communities than nearly any other in the Rocky Mountain West. Indeed, some friends of mine and I found a suicide victim there at the aptly-named Cold Shivers Point in November, 2007.